Unceasing efforts needed to improve availability of childcare services

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A file photo : A nursery worker and a child in a nursery schools. In Chiyoda ward, Tokyo.

Utmost efforts must continue to improve the availability of childcare services.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, there were 5,634 children as of April this year whose parents and guardians wanted them to enter nursery school but were on a waiting list.

Although the government’s target of reducing the number of children waiting for admission to zero by the end of fiscal 2020 was not been achieved, the figure was still the lowest since the survey began in 1994.

The capacity of nursery schools and other facilities was about 3.19 million children, an increase of approximately 60,000 from the previous year. This is likely the result of various efforts by municipalities.

A survey conducted among municipalities indicated that more parents and guardians are likely refraining from using nursery schools, due to anxiety over possible infection with the novel coronavirus. Another factor may be an increase in the number of people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or who have been telecommuting and spending more time at home.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic has abated and the economy recovers, the demand for childcare services will likely rise again. It should be assumed that the number of children on waiting lists will increase.

As the workforce declines amid Japan’s shrinking population, it is essential to improve childcare services in order to increase the number of female workers and halt the declining birthrate.

In December last year, the government worked out a “new childcare security plan,” which calls for the provision of childcare services for approximately 140,000 children over the four years from fiscal 2021 to the end of fiscal 2024. Detailed measures must be worked out by carefully analyzing the circumstances of each community.

The situation and wishes of parents and guardians vary widely, and it will be important to accurately understand the needs of each individual.

The city of Yokohama has assigned about 40 “childcare and education concierges” at ward offices and other locations to provide consultations for parents and guardians. In addition to searching for available nursery schools, they also introduce kindergartens that offer daycare services.

In addition to reducing the number of children waiting for childcare, the city said the consultations have also helped it understand local demand in detail, which is helpful in planning the development of facilities.

The central government provides subsidies to local governments that have appointed childcare counselors. Local authorities must actively take advantage of this program.

Even when there are nursery schools, there is sometimes a shortage of nursery workers, preventing schools from accepting children.

Currently, there are about 630,000 people employed as nursery workers, but there are estimated to be about 980,000 potential staff who are qualified but have left the industry due to childbirth or other reasons. It is desirable to create an environment that makes it easier for these human resources to return to the workplace.

The average monthly salary for nursery workers is about ¥310,000, which is about ¥90,000 lower than the average for all industries. It is important for the government to steadily improve the treatment of these staff.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 6, 2021.